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 Columns & Editorials

September 12, 2000

The Reality of Racing Message Boards

Somewhere in the neighborhood of three or four years ago, some major changes began to take place in the Florida racing community. The changes were brought about by a new communications medium called the Internet, or World Wide Web.

Think about it. Five years ago (1995) if you lived in Tampa, or Orlando, or Hialeah, or any other town in Florida that has a speedway and you didn't travel much there wasn't much awareness of what else that might be happening around the state. At least not for the average fan or driver. There wasn't much news or information getting around except of course for perhaps a few subscription publications, and the word of mouth rumor mill.

The Internet has changed all that. And in a very big way.

These days nearly any fan, racer, or any one involved or with an interest in Florida racing can find access to information which a few short years ago would have been nearly impossible to get. The amount of information available at anyone with access to a computer is staggering. The speed at which this information becomes available to you is perhaps even more amazing. KARNAC.com has several thousand pages of information on the Florida racing scene detailing much of the history of the last three years, and it is updated daily.

Not everyone is happy about this.

While some of the track owners, operators, and general managers have begun to take advantage of the new technology and are using it to help promote their tracks, communicate with their drivers and fans, and look for positive ways to improve their operations, there are still some die hard nay sayers who simply haven't seen the light.

Some perhaps never will.

The big gripe about the Internet amongst some is the dreaded and evil message board. The place where racers, fans and others can say what they want, without having to own up to their involvement. One owner referred to it as a "cowards corner". There is some truth to that assessment. Too many people in the racing community, as in life, don't really have the courage of their convictions. It's said the message boards hurt racing by giving it a black eye, what with some of the unending tirades against certain tracks, personalities, and especially track owners.

I agree with some of that thinking, and particularly am personally disgusted with people who have to use vulgar language to express a point. Not that any of our necessarily saints when around close friends, like that guy from Texas who wants very badly to be your next President let one go on a reporter last week when he though the microphone was off.

There are several problems I see with those opinions that insist the message boards are bad for the sport.

What I read on the message boards is what I see at the tracks. All the name calling, out of control emotions, fighting, foul abusive language and so on have all been in evidence at any track I've been to, and not just as a rare occurrence but with regularity. As they are at nearly every other sporting event. Racing venues are actually quite mild compared to football games, not to mention the slide of major league baseball players into competing against pro hockey sticks for the Mike Tyson Gentleman's Award. Uncivil behavior in the United States these days looks to rear its ugly head at every turn.

It would seem to me that if the track owners want a more disciplined bunch of drivers and fans, they would take the initiative at their own facilities. Then perhaps the wailing against the "media doesn't give us any coverage" would have more substance attached to it. Do you really want channel WXYZ and Joe Reporter from the Daily Planet printing stories and showing video clips of some of your finest racers, crews and fans?

Who knows, it may increase your fan count. It's amazing the positive promotional effects of what you or I might consider 'bad publicity' can have.

Another problem that I have with the nay sayers is the rumor mill complaints. If you were a promoter or owner of a track and you saw false information about your place on a message board, why in the world would you let it stand without giving out the correct information? It's not like this sort of thing ONLY happens on KARNAC message board for Pete's sake! Didn't you ever have a teacher in school do the 'pass the word' drill? She tells one student, "Mike is wearing a red shirt", and that student has to pass it on the next student and so on. By the time the 30th student has been passed the original comment, it has been turned into "Mike is getting expelled because his girlfriend Lisa is pregnant with twins". Rumors are controlled by a steady stream of factual statements and press releases by managements, not by some faith that human nature is going to take a right turn tomorrow because we will it so.

Those promoters who don't fall into the nay Sayer category are to be commended. Billy Hooker from Citrus County, J.T. Beard, soon to take over the Auburndale operation, Don Nerone of Orlando and New Smyrna, Louis Smith formerly from Florida Speed Park, are some of the promoters who aren't afraid of their fans and drivers and care enough to take the time to correct false information, and are trying to use the Internet and the new technology to benefit racing. Regardless of your personal or professional feelings towards these people, they are not hiding from you! And in reality some of the owners or promoters just haven't caught up with all this computer stuff, and that is understandable, I suppose for some people it's not all that easy.

But to those sitting back saying how bad it all is and blaming the Internet for their ills, get used to it! It's not going away. Learn how to use the new technologies to help grow racing, and focus on the positive tools available to you. Just a few of the tools with enormous potential are e-mail marketing combined with devices such as autorepsonders can add enormous marketing potential to reach both drivers and fans. The information storage, retrieval, and transmission capabilities over the Internet will not only create changes in the way speedway offices operate, but enormously impact the efficiency of the small staffs most speedways employ. Right now it is possible for a speedway to air its races with video and audio over the Internet for less than the cost of one week's purse of one of it's racing divisions. By gradually implementing these concepts a speedway can immediately increase it's reach into their communities while reducing the costs of marketing and management.

Within minutes a message can be placed that will reach over a thousand people directly, and by the time word of mouth via e-mail and telephones has done it's job three to four times that many fans will have heard your message.

All in one day!

At practically no cost.

Lowered fan counts and less drivers has nothing to do with message boards, but it does have something to do with not enough advertising, promotions, not using the new technologies, and not keeping up with the ever changing face of marketing.

I predict that the speedways that continue to run their facilities with 1960s and 1970s thinking will continue to struggle or force ownership changes while those that embrace new marketing tools will become the big players in the near future. Running on automatic is a sure way to destroy stock car racing in a community.

Racers hurting their cause

One complaint some have about message boards and chat rooms are the 'bad image' some drivers and fans give the sport with the comments made on the boards. There is no doubt some truth to this. But it's not the complaining about official's calls, lack of promotion, rough driving, 'cheating', poor safety or any of those types of things that impart a bad image.

Rather I would suggest to you it is the foul abusive language accompanied by personal attacks, and similar poor judgment used by the combatants. A personal phone call or e-mail or even personal confrontations out of the eye of the general public is one thing. Mix these with the cowardly avoidance of using your name and you have, at least in the opinion of many, shown a high degree of disrespect for the sport you supposedly love. These kinds of emotional outbursts in a public forum in the main are not from kids, they are not from fans, but most of the time are from drivers or crew whose emotions have run out of control.
You see this on the track and in the pits. Poor sportsmanship is poor sportsmanship, regardless of logic defying excuses for ramming cars, getting out and acting like a child at a sporting event by beating on a fellow competitor. Many will point to the other sports such as baseball where brawls are becoming commonplace. Last week I saw three Hall of Famers make this exact point. It shows a lack of respect for the game itself, not to mention your competitors. Baseball handles it with serious suspensions and fines. So should Saturday night racing shows. Some speedways have a place in their program or web sites to announce suspensions and fines. Although anyone is capable of 'race track rage' a 'three strikes and you're out permanently rule' may be a good thing to rid the tracks of repeat offenders who can't control their behavior. Stress reduction clinics are one place to deal with aggressive behavior problems, but not a race track.

It's no secret in successful companies that you keep the morale high by removing malcontents from your ranks. Bad apples do indeed keep good people away. If you want a slugfest, WWF with reality or tough man competitions, fine. Call it that, promote it and fill the stands.

Then on the other hand, perhaps the evil 'driver in black' against the 'white hat' is a good draw.

The participants who grace our message boards with their childish nonsense are no doubt the same ones who are constantly causing problems at the track.

Another example of the lack of respect shown the sport of stock car racing is when egos collide and the almighty dollar is involved. A perfect example exists as I write this. In the wake of a recent terrible tragedy at a Florida speedway the former owner/promoter, currently involved in a maze of legal disputes with the current ownership, decided to attack the current management and used the death of an innocent racer to further his own agenda, and chose to involve the message board as a weapon. Not only did the timing and judgment of such an action bring pain to more innocent people, but also it reduced the credibility of the former owner's claims and certainly had the opposite effect that he intended.
Also it must be noted that conversations dealing in a positive way with improvements that may be needed in our State do not get read very much, nor posted to with any frequency. While at the same time goofy, off the wall childish posts, as moronic as the Springer show, get read the most and become the longest on-going conversations.

Go figure.

Our policy at KARNAC.com has been to remove vulgar posts when we become aware of them. We have stated over and over, bring them to our attention, and we will remove them. We do not and will have a policy of removing posts complaining about the official's calls, or posts describing the poor taste of your food, or fans that think your prices are too high. Those are issues that ignore them if you want, are legitimate complaints whether you or I think so or not. Sports fans all have one thing in common: they love to argue, and occasionally pitch a fuss about some aspect of it.

The Internet is here to stay. None of us are going to change human nature in our fellows on any broad scale. But as a racer or fan of stock car racing it would seem it's time to realize the power of the Internet and as with any tool, learn to use it wisely.

Of course we welcome your comments and suggestions on these issues. We support the repsonsible use of community message boards.

Maybe the best we can do is use the tools of the Internet to their best advantage, and find solutions to reduce the impact that 'bad apples' have on the racing community tree, and the resulting misuse of the new technology.

Regardless of how the future treats the sport of sport of stock car racing, that future is in the hands of the people who care about it.

-Jack Smith

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